Liar!

The average human being lies 4 times each day (this number does not take politicians into account, because they obviously throw off the scale). So why in the world do you expect someone to be honest with you on a survey?

Long, long ago, when dinosaurs ruled the earth, I worked for a software publisher and reseller that was building an online catalog. Online catalogs were a new thing at the time, as was the idea of a user interface that was actually geared toward an average user. To do it right, we met with a fellow who did consulting for companies that wanted to do business with big players like Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon, or to emulate them.

We walked him through what we had, and our head of new product development explained how we had structured each page to push Customers toward other pages to control their experience and expose them to useful content.

"Stop," he said. We stopped. "How successful have you been at getting Customers to go to that page?"

Not very, we admitted, but we had this great plan to change that by doing this, that, and another thing.

"Stop." We stopped again. "What makes you think Customers want this?"

"We did surveys," said our product development guy. "And the majority of..."

"They lied," said the consultant guy. "They told you what they thought they should say, not what they really do." Silence.

"Why would they lie?" we finally said. "It's in their best interest to tell the truth."

"Because people lie," he said. "The U.S. spent $24 billion on porn last year, but if you ask anyone, they don't buy porn. Somebody's buying it."

Furrowed eyebrows around the table while we digested this.

"So what do we do?" we said.

"Do what Amazon does: Don't listen to what Customers say. Watch everything they do. If they don't go to a particular page, get rid of it. If they go to another page a lot, give them more of whatever's there. Don't make anything more than one or at most two clicks away from where they start out. And recheck your results every single day, so you can anticipate shifts before they become widespread."

Another note about surveys: They are hollow. By that I mean that most people don't do them, and those who do tend to be people who are strongly motivated to say something positive or strongly motivated to say something negative. If you are like most organizations, 80% of your customers fall somewhere in the middle. And, since the average survey response rate is around 3%, why are you making business decisions based on what 1% or 2% of your Customers took the time to say?

I am not saying don't provide Customer for Life (perfect, on time, personalized) service. I am saying that watching what your Customers do - how many respond to offers and when, how many you lose or retain and why, increases or decreases in spend, etc. - matters more than what a small number of them say. Don't make major changes because of a single complaint or two, or reward based on a compliment or two. Which leads us to GAS:

Don't Guess. Assume, or Speculate. Find out. Eliminate G.A.S.

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